Friday, August 12, 2011

It's Love, Not Sabotage (part 1)

More than one woman who is struggling to lose weight has complained that her husband, who knows that she's trying to avoid certain foods that she "can't resist" will go out and buy exactly what she "can't" eat. Invariably, the women rave about how their significant others are trying to "sabotage" their efforts. They are angry and frustrated, but the truth is that this is an act of love, not an attempt to short-circuit their success.

For many years, my husband watched me go from around the 160 lbs. I weighed when he met me to nearly 400 lbs. During that time, he worried about my health. Sometimes, the fear that I would die and we would be denied many years of time together because of my weight bubbled to the surface and I could see it in his eyes when he looked at me. It was a look of sadness, not of disgust or disappointment. It was because he loved me so much and didn't want to be denied years of life with me because of my issues with food.

Despite his fear, my husband still did what these other men did. That is, he would buy me food that made me happy and kept me fat. He didn't do it because he wanted me to stay the way I was. It's safe to say that he, more than anyone including me, wanted me to lose weight for the sake of my health and improvement in the quality of my life. He knew that the food made me happy and comforted me in my misery. He also knew that not buying things for me that I enjoyed eating wasn't going to change things because the changes that needed to be made had to come from me, not from him.

When there is someone in your life who is obese or super obese, it is easy to imagine that you are an integral part of the dynamic and that you are "enabling" them if you give them food that "keeps" them fat. This is simply not so. Anyone who makes the decision to eat a particular food in a particular quantity is doing it for reasons you have no sway over. They can't lose weight for you and you can't help them do it for themselves. That is not to say that they don't need support, but they don't need diet police. They need love, care, and attention.

One of the hardest transitions for me when I started living my life differently was not so much the loss of eating every type of food in unrestricted quantities (though that was hard) but the loss of an easy dynamic by which my husband could make me happy by surprising me with some food I'd enjoy. It was a two part process in which he demonstrated the way he thought of me and what would make me happy by giving me a gift, and then I would enjoy that gift. I lost that when I changed my relationship with food.

That loss was also multi-part. First, I couldn't eat just anything any time. I still eat treats and sweets, but the portions are very small such that it takes a long time to eat up whatever I buy. Also, since I eat so little, it's something I am careful to choose based on mood and quantity. My husband really can't be making such choices casually for me anymore. My body is not a garbage disposal that I toss great amounts of food into to get rid of it. The other loss is simply that my psychological changes mean that food is no longer the emotional comforter that I wrap around myself. I enjoy it as a sensory pleasure, but it's not a panacea for my pains anymore.

This loss has required profound adjustments in other areas of my life. My husband has had to restructure how he deals with me because he can no longer buy me food to make me happy. He's got to do more of other things, and it takes time and effort for both of us to figure out what more is required. Our relationship is important to both of us and we've worked hard on finding a new balance. I've also had to find peace and comfort through much more difficult and developed methods than simply eating. This is a profoundly difficult thing and has made me prone to depression, though that has gotten better through working more (which in and of itself has introduced other issues).

I knew for a long time that my husband suffered watching me destroy my health and mobility through my eating, but I knew on a "I know this feeling exists" level. I didn't know on the deeply empathetic level that one has when one stands in another person's shoes. Today, I got a taste of true understanding and deeper empathy when I talked to my sister. I'll go into that though in a follow-up post.